Growing all the way

When last did you feel utterly unprepared? Was it this morning when your boss asked for an update on your project? Or last night when you tried to resolve conflict with the love of your life? A recent (or memorable!) exam that blew you out of the water?  Or perhaps when your three-year threw herself down in a tantrum at your local shopping mall?

Grow_up
Don’t be found unprepared!

Being unprepared for any given situation causes one to feel humbled and helpless, yet in some instances the consequences are much costlier.  Thankfully the life of Jesus models how one could avoid the shame and resentment of failure in those key areas of one’s life.

Ready to launch

Luke records the launch of Jesus’s ministry at John’s baptism,[1] when God the Father affirmed and released Jesus with the empowerment of His Spirit.  Luke notes that Jesus was 30 years of age at this time.  The previous chapter in this Gospel recalls Jesus’ birth – announcing his identity and purpose as Saviour, Messiah and Lord[2] – and his early years, culminating in his words in the temple “I must be about my Father’s business[3].  Clearly, the 12-year old Jesus knew who he was, what his purpose was and where he should be.

Then the chapter ends with the words “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”  And that’s all Luke accounts for these 18 years of Jesus growing into adulthood: Jesus spent nearly two decades growing in wisdom, in physical strength and health, in spiritual vitality and emotional intelligence in preparation for the prophesies over his life.  Talk about a purpose-driven life!

Grow all the way – on purpose

Grow on purpose
Grow all the way – on purpose!

There is much similarity between Luke 2:40 and Luke 2:52 (and the story in-between explains the difference!).  But the English hides one important difference between these two statements in the similar translation of the words grow.  When Luke records that Jesus, aged 12 returned from Jerusalem to Nazareth with his parents and “grew” intellectually, physically, spiritually and emotionally, he uses the Greek prokoptõ meaning “to drive forward” as a herdsman drove cattle with purpose and urgency in a specific direction.  Luke states that after his realization of his identity and purpose, Jesus “drove forward” and intentionally, passionately advanced in preparation for his purpose as Messiah, Ruler and Saviour of Israel (and the world).

Today many Christians emphasize the supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus (which is clear and true![4]) but neglect to note the deliberate preparation Jesus went through for this purpose.  It shows that Jesus knew that God has entrusted a very important part of His redemptive plan to him, and therefore he took ownership of that call through urgent and disciplined growth in wisdom, health and strength, intimacy with the Father and emotional/ relational skill with a wide range of people.

Grow all the way – even in Nazareth[5]

The way in which Luke gives account of how Jesus answered his parents who came to fetch him in the temple suggests that Jesus really wanted to remain behind in Jerusalem, to be trained in the Scriptures by the teachers in the temple – as Paul was taught by the renowned Gamaliel.[6]  After all, it was customary for a boy of his age, after receiving basic education by tutors, to be prepared for a specific vocation by either their fathers or someone who specialized in such a vocation. Jesus knew the temple was the right place to be and said so to his parents, but still “he submitted and went with them to Nazareth”.[7]

Nazareth was a very small, very simple village. An insignificant place, where “nothing good comes from.”[8]  Yet here, in this nowhere little town, Jesus determined to grow in preparation for his purpose.  It as here that Our Lord spent 18 years intentionally preparing for his role as Messiah, Lord and Saviour.  There were better places, with more opportunities and wiser scholars, but his parents and later his circumstances kept him in Nazareth.

But Jesus alone was responsible for his purpose – no one else would give account on his behalf.  Therefore, Jesus took every opportunity to “drive forward” and prepare himself for his purpose.  What an inspiration to many who feel frustrated and boxed in by people or circumstances! Grow forward non the less!

Grow all the way intellectually

poor_learner
Grow all the way intellectually!

Throughout the Gospels (and the epistles), the wisdom of Jesus is highlighted and applauded.[9] His wisdom is often displayed as superior to that of the scribes, lawyers and teachers of Israel.

Luke records that Jesus grew wisdom – not only in knowledge.  Wisdom speaks of the right application of knowledge, especially in complex situations.   “Wisdom is fear of the Lord.”[10]  To fear the Lord means to speak and act with the knowledge that one must give account to God; wisdom acts with that reality in mind, over against immediate gratification.  Thus, wisdom sees the big picture and discerns the weightier matters.

Moreover, Luke notes that Jesus grew in wisdom – he did not get it supernaturally.  A quick scan through the Gospels shows that Jesus used about 50 Old Testament scriptures in teachings, to withstand temptations, and to prove himself during testing.  Wisdom is gained as one study the works of God, the words of God and the ways of God in the Scriptures, and prayerfully reflecting on it.

Jesus made an effort to grow in knowledge and wisdom to prepare and position himself for purpose, so that he would not be unprepared when God released him into his call. To prepare for our purpose, we should do the same!

Grow all the way physically

grow_taller
Grow all the way physically!

Jesus also grew physically healthy and strong for his purpose – and he needed to!  His ministry period of three years was wide and intense.  Conservative sources suggest that Jesus walked more than 5000 kilometres during these three years, while doing intense teaching, preaching, healing and deliverance almost daily.  His travels were over rough terrains and in harsh weather conditions.  With this in mind Jesus trained for strength and endurance; he grew in stature.

But nowhere during the life of Jesus is his strength and endurance clearer than the 24 hours of his arrest, trials, torture and crucifixion.  That Jesus was alive and alert on the cross is an amazing feat in itself!  His brutal beatings and whipping would have left him weak, stripped of his skin and tissue from his back, having lost much blood.  Yet Jesus somehow found strength to walk to his crucifixion, carry his cross part of the way, and, having finished his task, “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”[11]    Would he have fainted before the cross, his redemptive work would have been incomplete.  But Jesus grew strong enough beforehand in order to finish his task.

Let this be our example. Don’t let your body grow weak and let you down before it is your time!  Our culture is obsessed about looking pretty, bulky or skinny – looks are superficial.  Rather, grow strong and healthy.  Determine to grow all the way to see your purpose through.

Grow all the way spiritually

child praying
Grow all the way spiritually!

Jesus deliberately cultivated an intimate relationship with God his Abba, his Daddy, through prayer. We see this in his habitual evening retreats for prayer and solitude.  This intimate relationship with God provided for Jesus a source of strength and refreshing, his security in identity and purpose, as well as direction for what he should say and do.  Bluntly: without this vital spiritual link Jesus would not have had any way to fulfil his purpose, seeing as his purpose was derived, directed and sustained by his relationship with the Father.  Therefore, Jesus intentionally grew in relationship with God through a well-developed prayer life before his release into his purpose.

Likewise, your purpose is also derived, directed and sustained by your relationship with God your Father.  And therefore, determine to cultivate a healthy prayer life to grow in the same intimacy with God your Father.

Grow all the way emotionally

grow_friends
Grow all the way emotionally!

Jesus’ emotional capacity is astounding!  He could maintain meaningful relationships with such a diverse group of people – a skill essential for his ministry!  His disciples were such a diverse group (as I wrote about in Known by your Love), resulting in constant tension and frequent conflict.  Yet he could patiently lead, teach and love them all!  He was able to identify and show kindness to the various groups of Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, scribes, lawyers, tax collectors and sinners, etc) and even many groups of outsiders (Greeks, Romans, Samaritans, etc).  Jesus was able to maintain love and peace amidst conflict day in and day out.  He displayed remarkable emotional maturity indeed!

Luke records that Jesus intentionally grew in his emotional and relational capacity – where he was.  Without this development Jesus would have short-ended his own ministry.  I suggest that you and I also need to intentionally grow our emotional and relational capacity to fulfil our purpose – preferably before we are released into it!  How?  Start by intentionally widening our relationships to include people very different from us, and practice speaking the truth in love, not shying away from conflict.

Although Jesus stuck in the nowhere town of Nazareth, he was ready to be released on the day the father chose.  From a young age Jesus demonstrated intentionality in his attitude to “be about my Father’s business”[12], and made it his daily activity to “purposefully grow intellectually, physically, spiritually and emotionally”[13] until the day of his activation when “the Holy Spirit descended on Him.”[14]

So make it your aim to daily grow wiser, fitter, closer to God and closer to people – that you too may be ready to be released, and not be found unprepared for your purpose!

[1] Luke 3:21-23

[2] Luke 2:11

[3] Luke 2:49

[4] Acts 10:38

[5] I must give credit to John Andrews who highlighted this significant point in Jesus’ development to me.

[6] Acts 22:3; cf 5:34.

[7] Luke 2:50

[8] John 1:46

[9] Mark 6:4 and John 7:15 as examples.

[10] Proverbs 9:10

[11] John 19:30

[12] Luke 2:49

[13] Luke 2:52

[14] Luke 3:22

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What is the will of God (for me)?

“What is God’s will for my life?” This is a question we hear asked more frequently than others.  It is coupled to one of the great existential questions of life: “Why am I here?” and more specific “What is the purpose of my life?”  Not surprisingly, it is one of the main themes of the Bible and also one of the things Jesus frequently spoke about – regarding his own life and the lives of his followers.

Jesus said he came down from heaven only to do his Father’s will (John 6:38).  Even as a young child Jesus made it clear that he was “about his Father’s business” (Luke 2:49).  Therefore he did nothing on his own, but he sought only to do his Father’s will (John 5:30), which strengthened him – even physically (John 4:34).  He told his followers that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21; compare 21:31), and these ones who do God’s will he regards his brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:30; compare John 1:13).  In the end, Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross was in obedience to the will of his Father (Matthew 26:39; Galatians 1:4; see also Hebrews 10:5-10) destroying the works of the devil (1John 3:8).  Jesus literally lived and died to do the will of his Father – an example for us to follow after.

The Apostles followed his example of selfless obedience to the will of God for their lives, and also encouraged the churches to do the same (Philippians 2:5-8).  In fact most of the New Testament Text in itself answers the question “What is the will of God (for me)?” in a particular situation.  Some of the instructions are explicit regarding God’s will, for example “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17), in order to “do the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6).  This will of God is not automatically known, therefore our minds need to be renewed “to know the will of God” (Romans 12:2) and the Spirit of God helps us to pray the will of God (Romans 8:27).  We are called to “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Colossians 4:12), with “endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”  (Hebrews 12:36)

It is clear that obedience to “the will of God” is extremely important, and even desirable, so what is the will of God?  What do the Biblical authors mean when they use this and similar phrases?

God’s will of decree (sovereign, predetermined, immutable)

Will of Decree

In many instances in the Bible, when the phrase “the will of God” (or similar) is used, it refers to God’s pre-determined plan for his creation.  This encompasses all the times and events in history which will take place, because God wills it and orchestrates it in his sovereignty.  As such, this “will of God” is immutable (or unchangeable, Isaiah 14:26-27), universal (or everywhere, Isaiah 14:26-27), efficacious (or certain, Isaiah 55:10-11, Hebrews 6:17-19), all-encompassing (considers all variables, human decisions and even evil plans, see Genesis 50:20, Colossians 1:16) and eternal (or for all time, Psalm 33:11).  This plan or “will of God” is unfolding (or progressively being revealed, 1 Peter 1:10-12).  The following well-knows passage in Isaiah captures God’s will of decree well:

Isaiah 46:9-11 “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

God’s will of decree is clearly seen in fulfilled prophesies as recorded in the Bible, in particular the birth, life death of Jesus Christ.  God’s redemption plan in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ is foretold in the Old Testament (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53) and revealed in the New testament (Acts 2:22-24, Hebrews 10:5-10, Ephesians 3:1-12), and in particular the many events surrounding his conception, birth and early years (Luke 1:26-38, 67-79: 2:8-14, 25-35, 2:46-50).

The knowledge of God’s will of decree comforts us with the truth that he is in control, always, everywhere.  Biblically, God’s will of decree has two sure outcomes: firstly, God’s reign will be universal (Philippians 2:10-11) and his glory known everywhere (Habakkuk 2:14), and secondly a good outcome for the Christian (Romans 8:28).

 God’s will of desire (moral, ethical, voluntary)

will_of_desire

The second use of the phrase “the will of God” (and similar phrases) implies that which is pleasing to God, that which he longs for in his creatures.  This is also known as the moral or ethical will of God and is already made known to us in the exemplary life and Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:9), or found in the commands of the Old Testament laws and the New Testament instructions.  Examples of God’s revealed will of desire include “this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3), “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and “the Father is seeking” “true worshippers [who] will worship him in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23).  His heart for salvation of all people is expressed in this will of desire: “God is not willing that any should perish, but that al should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) for he “desires all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4; Matthew 18:14) as they “look on the Son and believe in Him” (John 6:40).  The apostles wrote the letters to help the early churches understand what God’s will of desire is in their specific circumstances, as in this instance regarding suffering unjustly, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:15)

These expressions of desire and instructions are labelled God’s will, but unlike the will of decree described above, humans have a choice in the matter.  It is clear that obedience to these instructions has salvivic consequences as implied in several New Testament texts.  Apart from the above verse mentioned in the previous paragraph, 1 John 2:15-17 serves as an example Do not love the world or the things in the world… And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

Obedience to God’s will of desire results in eternal life and eternal rewards when Jesus returns to judge the world (Revelation 22:12).

God’s will of direction (destiny, purpose, wisdom for situation)

God's will of destiny is the purpose or goal that he has for us in life, or in a particular situation
God’s will of destiny is the purpose or goal that he has for us in life, or in a particular situation

The third way in which the phrase “the will of God” (and similar) is used implies one’s destiny, purpose or the intended direction of one’s life or a particular situation.  In Psalm 139 the psalmist sings about God’s intricate involvement in every aspect and acute awareness of every moment of one’s life – even before creation.  God’s call of the patriarchs, judges, prophets, kings in the Old Testament, as well as his call of the apostles in the New Testament shows that God does call one by name for a specific purpose.   In Jeremiah’s call we read clearly that God has this plan in mind before his birth (Jeremiah 1:5); so also in the call of Paul the apostle (Galatians 1:15).  Jesus lived with this reality of God’s will of direction for his life, referring to “the will of my Father” repeatedly in the gospels, especially in John’s gospel.  The image is what the psalmist sketches in Psalm 127 of a father directing and propelling his children towards their goal (target) in life.

God’s will of direction is also used in Scripture to indicate the wisdom of God for a specific situation, i.e. “What is the will of God for this difficult situation? What does God want us to do?”  as David did in 1 Samuel 30:8.  Much of New Old Testament prophesy is an answer to God to confused people in troubled times regarding this answer from God, where God’s expressed will comes through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit  (2 Peter 1:21).

This is the will of God we tend to pray about more as we prayerfully search for God’s guidance while making decisions regarding marriage partners, business partners, career choices, financial decisions or holidays.  And rightly so!  God’s will of direction confirms that God has an intended plan for each of his creatures, and that in his wisdom he knows best for each situation.  He invites us to ask him in relationship about these plans he has.

So what is the will of God for me?

God the Creator governs the world and nations, allotting their seasons and territories (Acts 17:26), steering the events towards the culmination of his redemptive plan for creation upon Christ’s return.  This is God’s will of Decrees; our lives form part of this great plan of God which will certainly take place regardless of our participation or opposition.

But we have a role to play in God’s will for our lives.  The first is often neglected in the pursuit for God’s will, with devastating effects.  (New Testament authors write about this as the error of Balaam).

Firstly, God’s will of desire for my life is that I will respond to his gracious invitation for salvation in Christ Jesus and that I will participate with his transforming work in shaping me into the image of his Son Jesus Christ, to embrace his character and mission.  Thus God’s will for my life is firstly to become a certain person, before I do a particular job.  God wants me to walk worthy of Christ in the everyday elementary things in life; I must represent and emulate Christ in his loving, humble, kind, obedient, joyful nature (Romans 8:28). The Bible says that this emulation of Christ is essential in fulfilling God’s will since  faith without character transformation will lead to a fruitless Christian life – the corrupted nature will thwart sincere efforts of good works and obedience to God (see 2 Peter 1:3-10).

Secondly, God’s will of direction for my life is unique; it is my calling.  And my calling is usually not towards full time Christian ministry; God calls people to teach, to build, to steward projects or finances, to govern.  God’s calls people to do essential everyday things, also “non-essential” everyday things such as arts and music.  The lives of Amos the sheep-farming prophet, Deborah the mother-judge-deliverer of Israel and Paul the tent-making-apostle-preacher teach us that you can do many things in one lifetime and be perfectly in God’s eternal will for your life.

How do I know what is God’s will of direction for my life? This question will be unpacked in a later blog, but let me leave you with this: start by sincerely asking your creator to lead you into his intended path for your life.  And while you wait, listen and respond to his promptings, comfort yourself in this mindset:

“I TRUST MORE IN GOD’s ABILITY TO LEAD ME THAN IN MY ABILITY TO FOLLOW HIM.”  Let the Good Shepherd lead you on in his path for your life!

sheherd-leading-sheep